Health support workers kick-off series of occupational conferences

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Ninety HEU members, delivering support services in hospitals and care homes across the province, gathered in Vancouver September 15 and 16 to discuss the issues they face on the job and develop bargaining priorities in preparation for contract talks next spring.

It was the first of seven occupation and sector-based conferences being held this fall under the theme “Our Work Matters.”

By the end of the two-day forum, participants had identified three top priorities they want addressed in upcoming negotiations: wages, workload and job security.

Working in small group and plenary sessions, members also shared ideas about how to advocate for the critical, but often invisible, role they play on health care’s front lines and began developing a province-wide network of support workers to mobilize around bargaining and beyond.

At the outset of the conference, HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy emphasized how little politicians understand about the growing complexities of support work in our health care facilities, the impact of crushing workloads, and what it takes to provide a safe environment for patients and other staff.

Those observations were underlined over and over again as members spoke out about how cutbacks and short-staffing have increased their workloads, the impact of last year’s wage rollback on staff morale, and the overall lack of respect support workers receive for the jobs they do.

Attending delegates will report back to their peers at the local level. Bargaining priorities developed during the conferences will go back to union locals, who will bring recommendations forward to HEU’s Wage Policy Conference on January 9 and 10, 2006.

Delegates attending this first occupational conference included members who work in housekeeping, food services, laundry, stores, area supply, shipping and receiving, and transportation.